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Saturday, March 27, 1999 Published at 20:57 GMT


RAF pilots 'tense, anxious and busy'

RAF technicians wait at the Gioia del Colle base in Italy

RAF pilots carrying out Nato air strikes over Kosovo and Serbia have talked about their emotions during the Allied Force operations - and said their biggest test is yet to come.

Kate Adie reports from the RAF base at Gioia del Colle in Italy: "Reports of atrocities boost momentum"
The pilots, who cannot be named for security reasons, said their feelings were a mixture of frustration, anxiety and elation.

They were particularly frustrated after poor weather aborted raids in the early hours of Saturday.

Kosovo: Special Report
The eight Harrier GR7s returned to the air base without even crossing into Serb territory during the overnight raid.

The commanding officer of Number One Squadron, which is spearheading the RAF action, said the pilots had spent hours planning the strikes and building themselves up to fly into combat.

But he said: "Of course, that is part of the job."

[ image: A pilots' view, courtesy of the Ministry of Defence]
A pilots' view, courtesy of the Ministry of Defence
Low cloud cover caused major problems for the Nato force in identifying bombing targets, he said, and also made routine procedures, such as mid-air refuelling, difficult and dangerous.

"If we know the weather is going to bad, and we knew the weather was not going to be brilliant, we do not want to go and risk ourselves.

"It was a decision we were happy with to come back," he said.

Reports of Serb atrocities

The RAF commanding officer said reports of Serb atrocities in Kosovo are injecting a great sense of urgency among the RAF pilots.

[ image: Poor weather forced the Harriers to turn back within minutes]
Poor weather forced the Harriers to turn back within minutes
All the British pilots at Nato's Gioia del Colle air base in southern Italy were following events very closely and were keen to do their bit to end the Serb offensive, he said.

The pilots themselves described the raids as "anxious", "tense" and "busy" - but elating.

One told of a bomb he had dropped on an ammunition storage site. "There was a huge explosion," he said, "with red-hot somethings going thousands of feet in the air.

[ image: Operations are
Operations are "tense" and "busy"
"At times like that you think: 'Yes - we've done it'."

Another pilot said: "We are all human beings and it has an effect on all of us.

"Wanting to do something is a natural thing for all of us, but we go against the targets we are given."

Number One Squadron has launched planes three times in three days, but the RAF pilots said their biggest test is still to come.

"We still feel the biggest threat is from their surface-to-air missiles," the commanding officer said.

[ image: The pilots believe the worst is yet to come]
The pilots believe the worst is yet to come
"They have been quiet up to now - that is known - but they are well prepared. We still pay those much respect."

As well as the risk of dying in action, the pilots said they have to cope with the fear of being captured.

"We do think about that and we are trained in that sort of scenario, and I am sure that preys on all of our minds and that is covered in our daily briefings," the commanding officer said.

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